Trip: Mount Constance - South Chute - Finger Traverse
Went up a did Mt Constance this weekend. One of my first climbs in the Olympics, and I was duly impressed with the quality of the rock. Yes there is a large amount of scree on the route, but where the rock was solid, it was solid!
All in all, a very enjoyable route. We had fantastic weather the whole weekend, nary a cloud in the sky.
We started out on Friday morning around noon. We took bikes up the washed out road to the Lake Constance trailhead ~4mi in. They weren't much of a time saver on the way in, but they were fantastic on the way out. Took about 1 hour to get to the trailhead from the car.
We then proceeded up the trail, which starts in a old burn. Pretty steep and rocky for the first half mile or so, but then chills out a bit through some very scenic woodland along the creek. The trail really kicks it up steep for the last half though, climbing the walls of the creek canyon over rocks, roots, and more. Moderately maintained, and there were lots of trail markers of one kind or another. We made it up to the lake at 3:30, about 3 hours after leaving the road below. Two miles up, 3400' of elevation gained.
Hiking the trail up to Lake Constance
We made our way around the lake, and after some difficulty, located the campsites on the other side, including a bear wire and solar toilet. Bugs weren't bad at all, and we had a nice dinner before settling down for an early sleep so we could get a reasonable start the following morning.
We got up Saturday at 6 and were walking uphill by 7am. We found a faint trail ascending the talus that disappeared as we hit the base of Avalanche canyon. We picked our way up the dry stream bed, crossing some snow patches. At this point we noticed that my tennis shoes, 6 years old, no vibram soles, and worn flat were not going to cut any sort of snow travel. I skated across level snow, cursing most of the way. Once we got deeper in to the canyon though, the snow disappeared. We eventually got to a large house sized boulder.
Ascending the South Chute
At this point we could see the Cats ears pretty clearly and started an ascending traverse up into the south chute. Started out on reasonably solid talus, but the last 150m or so were loose scree. We made it to the obvious notch at the top of the south chute about 1.5 hours after leaving the lake. We easily located the next point on the route - an obvious large scree gully facing us across some snow. Fortunately, the snow had warmed up a bit at this point, so after a short glissade down ~100', we crossed the remained easily and headed up the scree slope.
Looking up the 2nd gully, near the top
This second gully was exceptionally loose. After ascending the first 50m or so, the gully splits and you follow the obvious way to the right, where it goes up into the minor E-W ridge. We managed to avoid the scree for the rest of the way by climbing the easy 3rd class rock on the left side of the gully. Hugging the left side worked out well, as the top of this gully has several "notches", but the middle and right notches are not where you want to end up - the left one provides access to the rest of the mountain.
Looking back at the schrunds we had to snake through.
After going through the notch in the minor E-W ridge, we were faced with more snow. Had we had spikes and boots, we could have easily walked on the snow around several minor buttresses. As it was, we had to stick to the rock. Often it was too steep and we simply dropped into the schrund, working our way around 3 minor buttresses before breaking clear of the snow. We then made an easy traverse around a more major buttress, finding at last the finger traverse.
Looking back at the finger traverse. Crux is the corner at far left. Dad got his axe stuck on the rock as he turned the corner, it's pretty tight!
We weren't sure that we were in the right place, so we hiked up ~50' or so to the top of the ridge. Found a few bivy slots up there, as well as the entrance to the west gully that allows you to bypass the finger traverse. We decided to go with the finger traverse though, so dropped back down. We had a 30m 8mil rope with us that we used to protect the entrance onto the finger traverse. The climbing is quite easy - bomber handholds the whole way, but generally poor feet. The only sticky point is really where you turn the corner. Aside from clipping the two fixed pins, I popped in one piece at the corner and called it good. We paused to unrope halfway across the finger traverse at a handy ledge.
Looking out to the final ridge (this was taken before the finger traverse). After the traverse, you pretty much just follow the entirety of the ridge line visible in this shot.
After the traverse, we dropped down a short gully and skirted two minor buttresses, going around one, and over the second. We then dropped down another ~20m onto a small snow field. Well, my dad did, traversing it for about 50m. I traversed the 3rd class rock above the snowfield. We then ascended an obvious gully, working our way up to the ridgeline. We took different paths to avoid knocking rock down on eachother - it's really a choose your own adventure here and there are MANY options for how to climb it. After gaining the ridge, we proceeded to traverse along it, sticking within 5m of the top, until we reached the final summit block.
The summit block appears the be an imposing vertical monolith at first glance. However, if you simply continue around on the ridge and go behind the summit block, it's accessible via easy some easy 3rd class. We reached the summit 7 hours after leaving camp.
Descent was uneventful. Protected finger traverse again on the way back, down climbed the gullies. Surfed scree down the gully on the opposite side of the minor E-W ridge (very quick descent there!). Made it back to camp in about 5 hours.
All in all, a great route! I'd highly recommend this route, assuming you don't mind prodigious amounts of loose scree. It's a wonderfully long 3rd class alpine climb with solid rock, beautiful views, and classic obstacles.
30m rope, small rack of 5 cams covering 0.25" to 2.5", 3 slings. Helmets. No harnesses, just tied straight in. No spikes, but we did have ice axes which were useful, mostly as canes in the scree.